The first ever United Nations report on the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, initiated in part by South Africa, has been released by the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva.

The report was drafted as a result of the South African-led resolution to combat violence and discrimination against people on the basis of sexual orientation which was adopted by the United Nations Human Rights Council in June.

Released on Thursday, the report outlines “a pattern of human rights violations… that demands a response,” and says governments have too often overlooked violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

It details how around the world people are killed or endure hate-motivated violence, torture, detention, criminalisation and discrimination in jobs, health care and education because of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

Homophobic and transphobic violence has been recorded in every region of the world, the report finds, and ranges from murder, kidnappings, assaults and rapes to psychological threats and arbitrary deprivations of liberty.

LGBT people are often targets of organised abuse from religious extremists, paramilitary groups, neo-Nazis, extreme nationalists and others, as well as family and community violence, with lesbians and transgender women at particular risk.

“Violence against LGBT persons tends to be especially vicious compared to other bias-motivated crimes,” the report notes, citing data indicating that homophobic hate crimes often include “a high degree of cruelty and brutality”.

Violent incidents or acts of discrimination frequently go unreported because victims do not trust police, are afraid of reprisals or are unwilling to identify themselves as LGBT.

The report draws from information included in past UN reporting, official statistics on hate crimes where there are available, and reporting by regional organisations and some non-governmental organisations.

Radcliffe said that while all people have freedom of religion, “no religious belief or prevailing cultural values can justify stripping people of their basic rights”.

In the report, Navi Pillay, the South-African born UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, calls on countries to repeal laws that criminalise homosexuality, abolish the death penalty for offences involving consensual sexual relations, harmonise the age of consent for heterosexual and homosexual conduct, and enact comprehensive anti-discrimination laws.

In 76 countries it remains illegal to engage in same-sex conduct and in at least five countries – Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen – the death penalty prevails.

Pillay recommends that UN Member States promptly investigate all killings or serious violent incidents perpetrated because of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, and to establish systems to record such incidents.

The High Commissioner also calls on countries to ensure that no one fleeing persecution because of their sexual orientation or gender identity is returned to a territory where their life or freedom is at threat, and that asylum laws recognise that sexual orientation or gender identity is a valid basis for claiming persecution.

Public information campaigns should be introduced, especially in schools, to counter homophobia, and police and law enforcement officials should also receive training to ensure LGBT people are treated appropriately and fairly.

Charles Radcliffe, the chief of OHCHR’s global issues section, told UN Radio that “one of the things we found is if the law essentially reflects homophobic sentiment, then it legitimises homophobia in society at large. If the State treats people as second class or second rate or, worse, as criminals, then it’s inviting people to do the same thing”.

He stressed that all Member States have an obligation under international human rights law to decriminalise homosexuality, adding it was important to persuade rather than lecture States to change their laws.

“I think we have seen the balance of opinion amongst States really shifting significantly in recent years. Some 30 countries have decriminalised homosexuality in the last two decades or so.”

Radcliffe said that while all people have freedom of religion, “no religious belief or prevailing cultural values can justify stripping people of their basic rights”.

The report will be discussed by Human Rights Council members at a meeting in March next year.

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) welcomed the release of the report.

Jessica Stern, Acting Executive Director of IGLHRC said: “The report is a tribute to all of the activists who have fought for recognition of homophobic violence and transphobic discrimination over decades, often in the face of extreme hostility. It will serve as an invaluable aid to each one of us who seeks to advance LGBT rights – not only at the United Nations but in cities and towns around the world.”

Jabu Pereira, IGLHRC Program Coordinator for Africa added: “The report will send a strong message to those African governments which continue to criminalise lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons under the guise of culture, religion and sovereignty.”

The report can be downloaded here.

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